Asthma and Allergies

New guidelines for preventing peanut allergy in babies

Claire McCarthy, MD
Claire McCarthy, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

New guidelines to prevent peanut allergies in children involve careful exposure to peanut products. Experts identify three levels of “allergy risk.” The safest approach to exposure depends on which category a baby is in. It is always important to discuss this with your doctor before introducing peanut products. Some babies may need allergy testing before trying this. No matter the strategy, parents need to remember that peanuts are a choking hazard for young children and many babies have trouble managing peanut butter, so it needs to be used carefully.

Antibiotics don’t speed recovery from asthma attacks

Nandini Mani, MD
Nandini Mani, MD, Contributing Editor

Winter is often a tough season for asthma sufferers, who generally more likely to become sick than those without asthma. It’s important for asthma patients to receive proper care when ill, and a recent study sheds new light on a common treatment that might not be the best course of action for most asthmatics.

3 things you might not know about childhood asthma

Claire McCarthy, MD
Claire McCarthy, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

For children with asthma and their parents, it’s important to understand what the symptoms mean and why a proper diagnosis matters, so that the right treatment can be prescribed for each child.

Is there a way to lower the cost of an EpiPen?

Celia Smoak Spell
Celia Smoak Spell, Assistant Editor, Harvard Health Publications

The lifesaving medication contained in an EpiPen is not expensive; the high cost is due mainly to the injector. Competing devices have not been successful so far, and no generic alternative is yet available. Finding ways to mandate that insurance fully cover the medication may not really bring the price down.

When do you really need antibiotics for that sinus infection?

Monique Tello, MD, MPH
Monique Tello, MD, MPH, Contributing Editor

Many people with sinus infections expect to be given antibiotics for treatment, but in most cases the infection will improve on its own. If a person’s symptoms meet certain criteria — for example, when colorful nasal discharge and facial pressure and pain last for more than 10 days — then antibiotics are recommended.

Fewer allergies: A possible upside of thumb sucking and nail biting

Claire McCarthy, MD
Claire McCarthy, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

It’s no surprise that children suck their thumbs or bite their nails. These behaviors are often discouraged, as they can go on to cause damaged teeth, infections, or even elicit teasing from other children. However, a new study suggests that there are benefits for children who exhibit these behaviors, as it makes their immune systems better at attacking germs and decreases their risk of developing common allergies. Although these habits may be irritating for parents, they may improve your child’s health in the long run.

4 “must dos” for kids with seasonal allergies

Claire McCarthy, MD
Claire McCarthy, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

Many children look forward to the warm, mild spring weather — but kids with seasonal allergies (also known as hay fever) might not. Hay fever can interfere with a child’s ability to play outdoors and enjoy the change of seasons, and it can just plain make them feel miserable, too. We’ve listed four tips to help your child cope with allergy season — and they work just as well for adults, too.

The latest on a simple way to help prevent food allergies in kids

Claire McCarthy, MD
Claire McCarthy, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

Pediatricians used to recommend that parents hold off on giving their children foods that commonly cause allergic reactions — peanuts, eggs, seafood, wheat — for the first few years of the child’s life. We now know that was bad advice. Recent studies have shown that giving these foods very early in life is perfectly safe — and that it actually decreases a child’s risk for some food allergies.

Don’t judge your mucus by its color

Robert H. Shmerling, MD
Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

Many people still think the color or consistency of nasal discharge determines whether you have a sinus infection. The truth is that anything that irritates the nose’s delicate lining — whether a virus, bacterium, or allergen — can result in any color or consistency of discharge. In fact, viruses are the most common cause of sinus infections, meaning you shouldn’t run to your doctor based on your mucus color alone.

Dissolvable tablets don’t work for people with severe allergies to grass pollen

Beverly Merz
Beverly Merz, Executive Editor, Harvard Women's Health Watch

People with allergies to grass pollen may have cheered last year when the FDA approved a no-needles treatment —a daily tablet you dissolve under your tongue. These tables deliver low doses of grass pollen to the bloodstream. This is done to “teach” the immune system not to wage war on grass pollen. It turns out that these tablets don’t work that well. An analysis of 13 controlled clinical trials indicates that dissolvable tablets are only slightly more effective than placebos in curtailing classic symptoms of grass pollen allergy—runny nose, itchy eyes, and tickly throat. To make matters worse, more than 60% of people who used the tablets experienced irritating side effects.